Gene Protects Against HIV, But Ups Risk for West Nile Virus

TUESDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- A genetic mutation that helps protect a small minority of people against HIV infection may increase their risk of contracting West Nile disease, new research suggests.

Researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) found that people who lack a cell surface protein called CCR5 are highly resistant to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but may be more susceptible to the West Nile virus. The mutation is found in about 1 percent of white people in North America.

This information may prove important for doctors who are using experimental CCR5-blocking drugs to treat HIV-positive patients. For example, doctors may need to advise these patients to strictly limit their exposure to mosquitoes.

"This is the first genetic risk factor to be identified for West Nile virus infection," Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said in a prepared statement. "While infection does not always lead to illness, the virus can sometimes cause serious problems and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 102 deaths in the United States from West Nile virus infection in 2005."

The study appears online in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Robert Preidt

SOURCE: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, news release, Jan. 17, 2006

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